A HOUSING master plan for all of South Worcestershire is back on track after a dramatic U-turn by councillors in Malvern Hills.

The South Worcestershire Development Plan (SWDP) seemed in tatters less than a month ago when Malvern Hills District Council (MHDC) threw out a motion declaring it “deliverable and sound”.

Members said they wanted further investigation of alternatives to mass housing allocations, much to the upset of MHDC’s partners Worcester City and Wychavon Councils - the former threatening a judicial review and the latter immediately breaking away to work on its own local plan.

But MHDC leader David Hughes was determined councillors should have another chance to redeem the SWDP, insisting some “did not realise the implications” of their decision.

His persistence paid off for him on Monday night as councillors reversed their decision and approved the SWDP.

This had looked unlikely early on in the meeting as councillors caught Coun Hughes by surprise by pushing through a vote for a fallback motion opposing the SWDP to be considered before the one supporting it.

This led to Coun Hughes proposing the SWDP be rejected while openly admitting he would be voting against his own motion - a position he described as “highly unusual”.

When it came to the crunch councillors voted against rejecting the SWDP by 19 votes to 15, with one abstention.

This paved the way for a vote to accept the SWDP, which was won by 19 votes to 13, with three abstentions.

Opposition members drew frequent attention to the fact that Coun Hughes had “whipped” his Tory members into supporting the SWDP.

But it was ultimately a handful of opposition members switching to back the SWDP that brought about the turnaround from last month.

Coun Hughes said he was “relieved and very pleased” his council had backed the housing plans at the second time of asking.

“I have been accused of scaremongering and manipulating and that has not been my intention at all,” he said. “It has been to try and get people to understand the real dangers and risks of the SWDP failing.

“This gives us a clear way forward with our partners in South Worcestershire to get a plan in place at the earliest possible opportunity.”

He admitted issuing the whip to his members but said a “no confidence” motion put forward by Green councillors Julian Roskams and Clive Smith left him no choice.

“I kept the process apolitical right up until that motion which specifically mentioned the SWDP,” he said. “That politicised it and I had no choice but to respond. The whip asks members to support the group line and the SWDP became the group line.”

Couns Roskams and Smith withdrew their motion shortly before the meeting but have pledged to bring it back early in the new year. They will also be calling for the council to investigate the events of recent weeks.

They admitted they were disappointed with how the vote turned out.

“A lot of pressure has been brought about on councillors on all sides,” said Coun Roskams. “It shows ultimately there is no whip in our parties. It was always a matter of councillors voting with their conscience.”

Coun Smith said: “You could say that the courage we displayed at our previous meeting has fallen at the last.”

Worcester City Council overwhelmingly approved the SWDP during its own meeting on Monday night and should Wychavon do the same next week - as is widely expected - then the plan will be submitted for government inspection and approval.